Theater director Mira Hirsch likes to keep busy.
A longtime fixture on the Atlanta theatrical scene, Hirsch founded the Jewish Theatre of the South, whose closure after 13 seasons at the Marcus Jewish Community Center was announced 10 years ago in December. She recently has spearheaded productions such as “Anne Frank: Within and Without” at the Center for Puppetry Arts and “My Name Is Asher Lev” for Theatrical Outfit, where she is the education director.
A year ago she was organizing the Exposed Dance Festival, a collaboration among the Core Performance Group, the Israeli Consulate General, local universities and other groups.
“Falsettos,” a musical composed by William Finn and directed by Hirsch, is being performed at the Atlanta History Center. It benefits the Zadie Project and, like much of Hirsch’s work, includes a social activism component. We asked Hirsch to discuss this and other projects.
AJT: How is “Falsettos” going so far?
Hirsch: Just great. We’re doing it in a concert format where it doesn’t require a lot of staging. The actors use music stands, and they’re on score. I don’t think you lose much in translation; there’s not a lot of staging to begin with. The story is told in song, and the music is so wonderful and inventive, so the relationships come through even in this concert setting.
AJT: What is the Zadie Project?
Hirsch: Souper Jenny, who has four restaurants in Atlanta, wanted to do something to give back to the community. She’s very philanthropic and started a nonprofit arm of her business. The mission is to deal with hungry families; they are delivering food to them. My husband happens to be the general manager of Souper Jenny restaurants, so it’s all in the family. I initially knew Jenny as an actor in the theater; it all just linked up in an interesting way. Her life intersects both communities.
AJT: Tell us about The Temple’s Project Tolerance.
Hirsch: When I used to run Jewish Theatre of the South, we had a program called Project Impact Theater, and this has the same format. The Temple was given a grant to create programs around tolerance. We developed a 45-minute show for teens around bigotry, prejudice, discrimination — all these negative behaviors in our contemporary society. It’s really peer-to-peer communication, with high school kids performing for other high school kids. They really pay attention. You can hear a pin drop. It’s not a linear play; there are short themes. It works particularly well in our environment today, where you can scroll through stories within seconds. The format seems to engage the young audience. We follow the show with question-and-answer sessions. Some who approach us have either been bullied or feel ostracized and are gratified that someone is speaking about what they’ve been going through. It’s a really cathartic experience.
AJT: What are you proudest of in your work?
Hirsch: Project Tolerance because I can see the impact we’re having. The idea of theater for social change is something I really believe in. “Anne Frank,” I was very proud of that. Artistically, it was a very beautiful show, and, again, it was reaching young audiences in a really profound way. I’m extremely proud of the 13 years I was artistic director of the Jewish Theatre of the South. I look back on it fondly and still believe it was an asset to our community. Its time came and went, but it’s something that I continue to be proud of.
AJT: What is next for you?
Hirsch: I’m directing my first show at Synchronicity this coming winter, an adaptation of the children’s book “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” about a china rabbit that gets transferred from one owner to another. It’s such a beautiful story and one that I read to my kids when they were younger, and they loved it. Then I’m doing a play at Oglethorpe University, a classic piece by Friedrich Dürrenmatt called “The Visit” that I’ve wanted to do for a while. Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative has invited me to do a spring break program. I’m just continuing my involvement in what is really important: my Jewish community, theater and social issues. Any time I can marry those together, that’s a worthwhile project for me.